The age of social media has given modern society an array of different things — funny cat videos, personal networks and the ability to buy things with the click of a button. There is really no limit to what can be done through the internet these days.
However, this seemingly limitless avenue of opportunity has also brought with it a greater moral wrong in the realm of speech, particularly opinion.
The 280-character limit on Twitter or a three-minute video on Tiktok has apparently given people enough leeway to voice their opinion on, well, everything.
Though there is nothing wrong with having an opinion — after all, we as an editorial board note twice weekly the importance of having a strong stance on a topic — we need to normalize not having one all the time.
One of the other, lesser-known things social media has riddled society with is misinformation. The amount of knowledge some people think they have after reading a five-slide infographic on Instagram is outrageous — and frankly, concerning.
The push to have an opinion and be vocal about it primarily manifests itself during election season. It’s times like these where fact and logic get thrown out the window in favor of making a timely argument, ultimately resulting in greater polarization.
It’s sometimes hard to admit, but nobody wants to answer a question with “I don’t know.” There is a prevalent social stigma around openly acknowledging that you are not educated enough to speak on a topic. Most of the feeling is shame, mainly for not being informed enough, and the other half comes from the fear of remaining neutral.
There’s often this idea that being neutral puts you on the side of the oppressor. But we mustn’t conflate not knowing enough with being willfully ignorant. Sure, we should all do our best to stay updated with the current happenings in the world, but with the hectic order of day-to-day life, it is naive to presume that everyone knows everything all the time.
In one sense, opinions are really nothing special or meaningful because everyone has them. So maybe one badly worded argument isn’t going to lead to anything harmful, but by that same token, maybe it will. There are some times when uninformed opinions can lead to something, resulting in devastating effects.
More than we realize, misinformation has the ability to easily corrode democracy. Take former president Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about COVID-19. In a tweet, he referred to the disease as being a “China Virus.” The Center for Disease Control warns against labeling a virus by the place of its origin due to the stigma it could cause certain groups — and Trump’s claim proves their point. The misinformation he spread about who the virus “belongs” to helped culminate a crusade of anti-Asian attacks and further perpetuate racist attitudes.
But let us not be remiss and recognize the times when it is critical to have an opinion and exercise that right.
Voting, for example, is something that should not be forgotten about just because we get too frustrated to have an opinion. Casting a ballot between two not-so-great candidates may not always yield the best results, but the act of voting itself is quintessential for upholding our democracy.
All of this is not to say that in order to have an opinion we must know the topic inside and out, rather that we owe it to mankind to be able to know when we do or don’t have enough information to properly speak on a subject.
As this board of editors knows, the process of fact-checking is essential to any piece of journalism and is the main reason we harp on the practice so much. At the same time, we also acknowledge that the sometimes laborious process of landing on a good editorial topic proves everything need not have an opinion.
Whether a journalist or not, the best way to fight ignorance is to stay educated and have the courage to step back and reevaluate when we know we are not.
This editorial was written by Opinion Editor Analise Bruno